Flu widespread in state

Published 12:25 am Thursday, January 10, 2019

Pediatrician: Not to late to get a shot this year

The influenza virus is now widespread throughout every county in Alabama, and local pediatrician Dr. Bhagwan Bang said that he saw more patients with the flu virus yesterday than he has seen the entire flu season.

“We have started seeing much more today than the last few days,” Bang said. “It really started spiking today. I saw much more than I have this entire season. As I anticipated, it is going to get much worse for the next two to three weeks.”

Bang said that he has seen mostly H1N1 cases. H1N1 is a virus that pigs can get, but human infections can and do happen. H1N1 is the name of a strain that infected people in 2009.

“I have seen mostly H1N1 A in my practice,” Bang said. “Around the country, we are seeing predominantly H1N1 A as well. I would say around 90 percent of the cases in the country are H1N1 A.”

In 2009, when there was a pandemic of the swine flu, it affected younger children and younger adults, but Bang said that he doesn’t know if this flu season will follow that pattern.

“One very interesting fact about 2009, is that the swine flu infected a lot of younger children and young adults,” Bang said. “I’m not sure if we will see that being the same pattern or not, but it will be interesting for me to see.”

Despite almost all of the cases now being H1N1, Bang said that it is different from the 2009 infection.

“In 2009, it was a little peculiar,” Bang said. “Because it came in the off season. We started seeing it in April, and the flu usually peaks somewhere between January to March.”

Whether the number is higher or lower from last year’s flu season will depend on this year’s vaccination rate, Bang said.

“The vaccine that we have now protects against H1N1,” Bang said. “In 2009, we didn’t have a good enough vaccine to protect against it, but this time we have vaccines. If people are well vaccinated then we will see less get infected.”

Bang said that it is not too late to get the flu vaccine.

“You can still take the flu vaccine,” Bang said. “It is recommended to take throughout the flu season, even though the idea is to take it as soon as it becomes available.”

Even though H1N1 is the main flu strain that he is seeing now, Bang warns about other strains that might show up down the road.

“You should not forget that H1N1 is the main one we are seeing,” Bang said. “But two months or three months down the road, you might see a B flu or an H3N2 strain. A vaccine provides protection against all of the strains. So if you are unlucky you might get four different types of flue in one season if you don’t get vaccinated.”

Nationally, there have been 1,562 lab-confirmed cases of flu since Oct. 1, 2018, CDC data shows, with the highest hospitalization rate among those 5 and younger, followed by those aged 65 years and older. The virus has already claimed the lives of 13 children so far this flu season, CBS reported yesterday. Last year, the flu claimed more than 80,000 people, including 185 children.

Flu can cause mild to severe illness and, at times, death. Its symptoms come on quickly and can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue and sometimes, diarrhea and vomiting.

The CDC predicts flu activity will increase over the next four weeks and the highest flu activity will likely occur in the next two months.